Recently, a Hindi-language newspaper in India published interviews with three Sikhs who had fled Afghanistan after the Taliban took over the country in August 2021. As of late September 2022, there were reportedly only 43 Hindus and Sikhs remaining in Afhganistnan. In recent years, both before and after the Taliban seized power, Sikh places of worship, called gurudwaras, were attacked by jihadi groups.
The three Sikhs interviewed include Sukhbir Singh Khalsa who lived in Ghazni before moving to Kabul, and now in India: "My name is Sukhbir Singh Khalsa, 35 years of age. I am from Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. It would be better to say 'was' instead of 'am.' There is little hope that we will go home to Afghanistan again," he said in the interview.
"In 2020, there were about 700 Hindus and Sikhs living in Afghanistan, but today only 20-22 Hindu-Sikhs are left there. Thirty years ago, before the civil war broke out in 1992, their population was more than 2 lakhs [200,000]," Dainik Purvoday, the Hindi-language daily that interviewed Sukhbir Singh Khalsa and two others, noted.
Two others who were interviewed were Mansa Singh, a 38-year-old spice wholesaler in Afghanistan, and Chhabol Singh, another Sikh man. Following are excerpts from the interviews:
Sukhbir Singh Khalsa: "Women Could Not Go Out; Going To Market Was Out Of The Question – Even If They Had To Step Out Briefly In Neighborhood, Then They Had To Wear A Hijab"
Question: "How were your days in Afghanistan?"
Sukhbir Singh Khalsa: "We were living in suffocation; every day started with a bomb blast. There was bloodshed every day. Many of our family members were killed in the 2018 Jalalabad bomb blasts. In 2020, many people also lost their lives in [the attack on] Guru Rai Sahib, the Kabul gurudwara. Hindus and Sikhs were being selectively targeted in Afghanistan for the last few years. Who used to attack? Because of what? Nothing was known."
Question: "What was the condition of children and women?"
Sukhbir Singh Khalsa: "We could not send our children to study in outside schools. We had opened a small school in the gurudwara itself. We used to teach Punjabi to children there. Earlier, our children used to go to school; other children used to call them unbeliever there. Many times, my son's turban was tampered with in school. We stopped sending children and taught in the gurudwaras. Women could not go out; going to the market was out of question. Even if they had to step out briefly in the neighborhood, then they had to wear a hijab; only then could they go out."
August 15, 2021: Afghan Taliban enter Presidential Palace in Kabul
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Question: "Do Afghan Muslims hate minorities?"
Sukhbir Singh Khalsa: "It is not right to call every Muslim wrong, because a war has been underway for the last 25 years. Some Muslims also used to work in my shop. Those people were crying. They did not want us to leave Afghanistan. I went to the market five or six days before leaving Afghanistan. There was a woman with her husband. I myself heard what the woman told her husband. She said, 'Sardar people never fled from Afghanistan; it is better that God does not take them to India. They are the flowers of our country.'"
Question: "Is there any incident that you cannot forget?"
Sukhbir Singh Khalsa: "There is an incident. A terrorist attack took place in the [Kabul-based] Guru Rai Sahib Gurdwara in 2020. There was gunfire in front of my eyes, explosions one after another. Twenty-five people were killed in this attack. The car [bomb] was parked near the Kart-e-Parwan Gurdwara. I was next to that car. We had gone a short distance from there when that car exploded. People in India are thrilled by bursting firecrackers [during festivities]; we have come to see big explosions with our own eyes."
Question: "What changed after the Taliban came [to power in August 2021]?"
Sukhbir Singh Khalsa: "When Ashraf Ghani was ruling and there was America's control, then if there was any VIP movement, curfew was imposed on the streets. There was a lot of strictness during that time. This strictness has stopped under the Taliban rule. In the eyes of the Taliban, everyone is the same. Earlier people would install stone covers in front of their houses to avoid blasts, but now everything has been removed.
"Theft and bribery have stopped under the Taliban. No one was afraid of the previous government, but everyone is afraid of the Taliban. Hands are cut off for stealing; men have to go to jail for looking at women with an evil eye. The rule of the Taliban is being run by the shari'a."
Mansa Singh: "My Son Used To Go To A Private School, He Was The Only Sikh Boy In His Entire Class – Muslim Children Used To Threaten Him By Calling Him 'Unbeliever'"
Question: "What is the first thing you want to do after coming to India?"
Mansa Singh: "My 13-year-old daughter Manmeet Kaur wanted to study while living in Afghanistan. Girls were not allowed there to go out after the age of six. That's why my daughter stayed home. Some studies were done in the gurudwara. Now we have come to India. Thanks to the government of India, which gave us an e-visa. We are living in a gurudwara at Tilak Nagar [in Delhi]. Here the people of the Sikh community are helping us. Now we have to start life from zero again."
Question: "What is the difference between the previous Taliban rule and this one?"
Mansa Singh: "When the Taliban came to power for the first time [in mid-1990s], the excesses were high. The Taliban cadres used to kill anyone on the streets. Women were oppressed. The face of the Taliban has changed a lot in the last year. The administration is tight. People also listen to the Taliban administration. There is fear among the people about the government."
Question: "Was there pressure to convert under the Taliban rule?"
Mansa Singh: "Never did the Taliban directly order us to become Muslim. There was no coercion. Due to the terrorist incidents, such an atmosphere of fear had been created that there was no option but to leave Afghanistan. My son used to go to a private school. He was the only Sikh boy in his entire class. Muslim children used to threaten him by calling him 'unbeliever, unbeliever.' They used to make fun of my son's [hair] bun and tease him."
Chhabol Singh: "Around 700 Hindus And Sikhs Lived In Afghanistan At The Time Of The [Terror] Attack In Jalalabad In 2018; Now We Have Only 20 People Left; Of These, 14 Are Sikhs And Six Are Hindus"
"Chhabol Singh left Afghanistan and came to India in 2020. Since then, he has lived in Tilak Nagar, Delhi. Chhabol Singh, who is engaged in bringing the remaining Sikhs in Afghanistan to India, says that around 700 Hindus and Sikhs lived in Afghanistan at the time of the [terror] attack in Jalalabad in 2018. Now we have only 20 people left. Of these, 14 are Sikhs and six are Hindus. The condition of Hindus and Sikhs was not good even under the Ashraf Ghani government.
"In 1996 [until 2001], the country was ruled by the Taliban. Then, it was announced that women should not leave the house. Now there is no such announcement, but the fear is so much that no one goes out. Only men go to the market. Women are compelled to hide in homes. To bring Sikhs and Hindus from Afghanistan to India, the government issued visas on an emergency basis, and provided chartered planes. We have brought about 450 people from Afghanistan to India so far."
"Chhabol Singh says that people from the Sikh community, who came from Afghanistan, are living in India on temporary visas. Most people have plans to settle in another country. Canada has assured help to many people. The Sikhs who have just returned are in a wait-and-watch condition. Their first priority is that if the situation in Afghanistan improves, then they should return and settle there again. 'If this does not seem to be the case, then we will think of settling in a country like Canada.'"